President’s Cockpit / BG Howard W. Yellen, Ret.: Thirteen years of high-intensity ground combat came to a close in December 2014. But many troops across the Army are still grinding like it’s 2009, with individuals seeing very little, if any, decline in the overall operational tempo.
That is especially true in Army Aviation where almost no mission is conceived, planned, and launched without complementary aviation assets. The Ebola mission in West Africa is the latest example.
In this month’s issue General (Ret.) Dick Cody and members of his AAAA Strategic Planning Committee provide a thoughtful discourse on the strategic value of Army Aviation. The value of such versatile, flexible and adaptable capabilities will no doubt be called upon again in support of the ground commander and the joint and combined team. But, what kind of Aviation force will deploy in support of those commanders?
In 2004 the Chief of Staff of the Army provided guidance to make Army Aviation a capabilities-based maneuver arm optimized for the joint fight with a shortened logistics tail. I believe that has been accomplished and the proof is clearly evident in the support Aviation has provided since.
However, the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with mounting pressure on the Pentagon’s budget, is forcing the military to make steep reductions in the size of the force. In the Army, nearly 22,000 soldiers departed in 2014 and it’s not yet clear when those reductions will stop. The Army has shed more than 60,000 soldiers since it began a drawdown in 2010 and faces the possibility of losing 80,000 more by the end of the decade.
We see the impact of such reductions in Army Aviation as the 159th is presently conducting its drawdown and is expected to case its colors later this year. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) will resemble any other light division; what distinguished this historically significant unit, its vast array of aviation capabilities, will be reduced and one could postulate that the Division should be renamed in order to remove its ‘Air Assault’ designation.
Unfortunately, as ill-advised as Aviation force structure dilution may appear, it is the resultant action of budgetary pressures emplaced upon the military by Congress. Our current Aviation leaders have taken the prudent action of dictating the reshaping of the Branch rather than leaving it up to programmers in the Pentagon or professional staffers on Capitol Hill. The unrelenting and deafening rhetoric pertaining to Apache reallocation misses the mark as had Aviation leaders not taken proactive measures, the Branch would have been far worse off.
The question we should all be asking of the nation is…what capabilities do we want from our Army and by extension our Aviation force; and why are the resources that provide for that desired capability being eliminated?
Concomitant with force structure reduction is the reduction in resources to train and maintain. Future OPTEMPO for flying hours will be at an all-time low, regardless of Component. There is no substitute for demanding and realistic training. Leader development and individual/crew training is the foundation for everything our Army accomplishes. Aviation sustainment will suffer as the resources to reset, repair and/or replace will diminish and we see a reduction in readiness. The resourcing decisions being forced onto the Branch today could have significant and far reaching consequences in the future.
Aviation force structure and unit competency cannot be created after the emergency arises. It takes months, even years, to develop. Strengthening Army Aviation and investing for a successful future reaffirms to our Soldiers and the nation that only the best equipment and capabilities put into the hands of the finest Aviation Soldiers in the world will be brought to bear for that next mission wherever and whenever called upon.
BG Howard W. Yellen, Ret.
31st President, AAAA